Bully for ‘Carrie’.
When we first moved up to Glasgow from Kent I was badly bullied at school simply for being English. Whenever we had football in P.E. I was always picked last because nobody wanted the “English kid” on their team, despite me being pretty quick on my feet, followed by more bullying in the showers. The daily verbal and physical abuse, being spat on by the row behind me during French classes and the constant digs of “being English” meant that I started to uncouple Scotland from my reality, the nation I was living in fading, blurring, becoming simply a superimposition on reality I refused to bring into focus.
The resultant effect of this was a rabid distrust of any form of nationalism, the notion even to my ten year old mind, of being persecuted purely because of geographical location at birth, seeming a form of mental illness in its irrationality. It wasn’t just Scottish but any form of nationalism — English, American, whatever. Anything that could possibly be used to promote tribalism and the persecution of the “other”. By the time I was 12 I was, in the words of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, a planetary citizen identifying only as a human being in the cosmos at large.
So watching ‘Carrie’ last night brought a lot of the memories of being bullied back intensely for me but it is also one of the reasons ‘Carrie’ is so good — it is one of the best films about bullying there is. Sissy Spacek plays Carrie like a raw, open wound to the point where your heart breaks (often) for her. She plays vulnerability so well and I was shocked at how readily I identified with her.
‘Carrie’ is a slow-burn of a movie with nearly everything building up to the prom. There’s also not much “action” with the emphasis being on character, manipulation and the abuse poor Carrie is constantly put through. This also means that, although sublimely directed, there aren’t as many De Palma set-pieces until the end of the film with a lot of the stuff he’s doing being a little less in-your-face, allowing the characters to take centre stage. But this is a meticulously well made film and the pacing is great.
And there isn’t that much “telekinesis” stuff going on until the end. It’s a wise decision as (and De Palm points this out himself) having too many plates or ashtrays flying about in a movie can look cheesy. All we know is that there is a bubbling power inside Carrie that is growing to the point of uncontainability.
When Carrie does unleash her powers it’s spectacularly awesome. In all this chaos a blood-covered Carrie remains sanguinely sanguine, moving through the red-coloured carnage like an unstoppable bad-ass, and it’s glorious. And we WANT her to kill everyone. The pressure and tension has been building for an hour and she, and we, need release. And we get it.
‘Carrie’ is almost perfect and up there with my favourite De Palma movies such as ‘Phantom of The Paradise’, ‘Blow Out’ and ‘Body Double’. ‘Carrie’ might also be his most human film and is certainly his most touching, which only emphasises the horror. There’s also the fact that Piper Laurie and Spacek deliver the two best performances in any of De Palma’s films and Pino Donaggio’s score is one of his best; as tender and delicate as Carrie herself.
Unlike Carrie I didn’t develop any telekinetic powers and the thought of simply destroying my old high-school seemed a little… small scale? No, I desired the whole-scale destruction of Scottish culture itself as retribution and my power would that of radio waves which I would rain down on this country like a wrathful god.
I started this by ingratiating myself into the world of radio comedy determined to see how much havoc and destruction I could cause in that arena first. Turns out quite a lot actually and soon we were all over the newspapers, including the front page of The Times with some of my radio shows being so violently incoherent and offensive that it could be argued that Radio Scotland ceased, technically, being a radio station whilst they were broadcast.
Listeners became irate, complaints flooded in, a couple of heads of production companies teetered on the end of nervous breakdowns as I walked calmly trance-like through the destruction I had wrought on this nation that was now culturally in flames.
“Radio as Revenge.” Dr Magma diagnosed.
I adored revisiting ‘Carrie’ after so many years and was surprised at not only how much her story touched my own memories of being bullied but also how her story arc mirrors my “career” as a radio producer. It’s uncanny.
P.S. I have since come to love Scotland and very much enjoy living here and it’s only taken eight years of therapy sessions.